Full disclosure, I am a University of Texas alumna, class of 1997 (I was in the top 10 percent of my high school class, though the top ten rule began in 1996). I also consulted on the Abigail Fisher case in 2008, providing my insights to her public relations team.
Even then I was reticent to completely endorse her case; as I told the team, if black people weren’t entitled, neither was Fisher. Fisher and other students like her have been lucky to have the resources to attend equal colleges elsewhere, whereas some less fortunate minorities may have not. Privilege, after all, isn’t only in acceptance, but in having good options.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in revisiting the Abigail Fisher case, said this week: “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well.” He cited a brief that “pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools” where they do not feel they’re being pushed in classes “that are too fast for them.” And worst of all, he questioned if the University of Texas “should admit as many blacks as possible… Maybe it ought to have fewer.”
I used to call myself a black conservative. I was a talk radio show host and a commentator on Fox News Channel. I abandoned the black conservative label and the Republican Party as I began to see that it put me in agreement with sentiments like these. Scalia’s comments do not only insist on racial inferiority where affirmative action does not, but they are also false. Since when does struggling mean you shouldn’t try to climb the mountain? And, is it okay for some students to be discriminated against as long as they aren’t white students?
Conservative values were in my blood. Growing up was, “be willing to work twice as hard, be twice as good, and never let them see you sweat. Don’t expect anyone to give you anything; you aren’t entitled to it anyway.” And these are undoubtedly the rules to which other black students seeking admittance into high-ranking universities subscribe.
As a former University of Texas student, who struggled at first but ultimately graduated (on time, loving every minute of my time there), I can tell you there are many reasons why certain students suffer.
Having to work my entire four years in college in spite of having an academic scholarship was overwhelming. The classes were not “too fast for me,” but I was unfamiliar with tutoring, study sessions and preparatory test taking (something my kids are privy to and take for granted). There were rules and systems I had to learn at an accelerated pace. I’m thankful I didn’t go to a “lesser school,” where I wouldn’t have gained the experience and learned to thrive in this setting. Being exposed to and mastering these systems have served me my entire life.
Besides, it’s just not true that “lesser schools” are where any promising student belongs. While running for governor of Texas, I visited black students at these “lesser schools” and was shown the error in my conservative thinking.
There are several benefits to going to a so-called “advanced” school, not all of which are purely academic. There are social barriers one breaks through,opportunities to have your world expanded, to challenge yourself and think differently, more broadly outside yourself. Studying abroad in Japan, in my case. There are the international students and students from all over the country you meet that expand your capacity to relate to the larger human experience and consciousness, a privilege one may not have at a “lesser school.” And there are doors that are opened to you as an alumnus in certain communities that can promote economic advancement and break the cycle of not knowing the system.
All these things and more would be denied to African-American students who are equally deserving of a chance at the best schools and capable of thriving with the right resources, like community support, tools to help navigate new systems, and mentors who can help these students deal with feelings of isolation, unworthiness (a human struggle by the way, only more pronounced in certain minorities) and the unique pressure they face to be a worthy representation of their family and race.
Why invest in equipping these students with these resources when some students come ready to hit the ground running? Our world is out of balance. More segregation and exclusion will only worsen the chances for equality and opportunity to the underrepresented. The educational and social opportunities that high-ranking universities offer are wholly relevant to the breaking down of inequality in our world, fostering unity and solidarity in humankind. They advance economic opportunities for African-Americans and bring us all closer to our collective humanity in the long run.
Fritsch is an author and strategist for social and political uplift. She ran in the 2014 Republican Primary for Governor of Texas.